The Chinese Nationality Room in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning was one of the first nationality rooms to be built, dedicated in October 1939. These rooms were meant to represent minority groups in Pittsburgh, celebrating their cultures through the creation of a classroom that would embody aspects of each heritage through furniture and décor. However, the Chinese Room presents a special case, as its planning and erection—organized by a committee of Chinese students and community members—occurred in the midst of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and racial discrimination in the U.S., and rising nationalist sentiment and political turbulence in China, providing a complex, transnational context for its creation.
This exhibition will demonstrate that the Chinese Nationality Room stands as a memorial to not only Chinese cultural achievement, but also to China-U.S. relations in the 1920s and 30s. Using materials from the Chinese Room's archives, photographs, and other visual and textual sources contemporary to the Room’s creation, this exhibition constructs a narrative revealing the Room’s cross-cultural history of Chinese exclusion in the U.S., political turbulence in China, and their impacts on the Chinese population—particularly Chinese students—in the U.S. Seen within its historical context, the Chinese Nationality Room can be viewed as an intervention to combat racial discrimination by endorsing China’s cultural and political significance, as well as an illustration of acculturation and cross-cultural acceptance. The exposition of the Room cannot be dissociated from the discrimination faced by the Chinese population and its efforts to mediate between two cultures. The Chinese Nationality Room is a testament beyond a local celebration of Chinese culture, signifying a transnational history of the Chinese in America.
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